Charlie, dressed as a tramp for the first time, goes to a baby-cart race in Venice, California. He causes a great deal of trouble and confusion, both on off the track (getting in the way of... See full summary »
Charlie, dressed as a tramp for the first time, goes to a baby-cart race in Venice, California. He causes a great deal of trouble and confusion, both on off the track (getting in the way of the cameraman) and on (interfering with the race). He succeeds in irritating both the participants and the public. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This was the first film in which Charles Chaplin played his most famous character, The Tramp. With only a small number of exceptions, Chaplin would play only The Tramp (or slight variations on the character) on film until The Great Dictator. See more »
This is an Amazing Record of Chaplin's Genius from the Start
Keystone and Max Sennett liked to improvise stories as they went along. He was the first guerrilla filmmaker (to use a phrase that was popular in the 1960's).
Henry Pathe Lehrman was assigned to direct Chaplin after Sennett hired him. As we know they did not get along. Lehrman was perhaps understandably jealous. Chaplin had been hired to replace Ford Sterling as Keystone's lead comic. Lehrman probably thought that he should get a shot as he had been working with Sennett for some four years, with over 50 films to his acting credits and some 35 to his director credits, and Chaplin was a vaudevillian who had not made a film before.
One can see this film as a kind of test for Chaplin. Given just an event for the background, could Chaplin come up with a film story on the spur of the moment. It was almost an intelligence test, like putting a new rat in a maze to see if it can find the cheese. Only in this case, the rat breaks all the records for finding the cheese. Chaplin passes the test with flying colors.
Chaplin holds to a single idea or theme and just repeats and elaborates on it, like a Baroque musical work by Bach. Chaplin is just a by-stander at the event who becomes fascinated by the documentary camera filming the event. He wants to be in the movies and so he stands in front of the camera and preens himself like a peacock. The bystander imagines that he can become a movie star simply by stepping in front of the camera. One can almost hear director Lehrman telling Chaplin, "You think it is so easy to become a movie star? You think you can just step in front of a camera and become a star? Do it. I dare you." Chaplin takes the dare and is absolutely hilarious as he drives the story director played by the real director Lehrman crazy.
There is no story here. This is minimalist guerrilla cinema. Chaplin stands in front of the camera, Chaplin walks in front of the camera, Chaplin runs in front of the camera and Chaplin tosses his hat in front of the camera and retrieves it. This is not a plotted story, it is just the camera finding, discovering and falling in love with Chaplin.
Lehrman should get a great deal of credit for this movie as well as Chaplin. He allows his real anger at Chaplin to be displayed for all the world to see. The greatest joke is that we, the audience, don't understand that the anger is real, barely disguised in the spontaneous plot.
Watching the behavior of the crowds, the kiddie race cars and the cameraman cranking the camera are bonus treat here. It just adds to fun of Chaplin boldly announcing his presence in the world of cinema.
The last shot is a close-up of Chaplin making a funny face at the camera. It is a shocking close-up that rivals the last shot of "The Great Train Robbery." Instead of a gun going off, we have Chaplin making a funny face a few inches from the camera lens and having his nose squeezed. It is a great shot that only lasts a moment, but leaves us wanting more.
This is not so much a film as a record of the descent of the Great God Pan to Earth. No funnier or happier footage has been shot in the 100 years since.
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